Depending on what side of the generational divide you fall on, we’re either living in the Golden Age of Television—or witnessing the tipping point of what was once the most influential medium of our age.

U.S. Millennials (we’ll define them as between ages 18 to 34 in 2015) are projected to number more than 75 million this year, and their influence is transforming a broadcast entertainment industry scrambling to keep pace with their ever-changing content consumption habits.

Recently, AMA Atlanta’s Entertainment Marketing Group gathered a group television industry thought leaders together for a panel discussion to address this disruption. Sponsored by our agency, “The Future of TV: Do Millennials Control the Remote?” was a fascinating look at how Generation ME is reshaping the television and cable industries. Moderated by Peter Scott, VP Emerging Media, Turner Sports, the influential panelists included Mark Greatrex, Chief Marketing & Sales Officer, COX Communications; Peter Naylor, SVP Advertising Sales, Hulu; and Michael Ouweleen, CMO, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang.

Here are six key takeaways from our panel on the trends that are driving how each of their unique businesses are evolving. Marketers, take heed.

TV Has Never Been More Complicated

Once, there was a handful of broadcast networks to choose from—and the cost of creating and distributing their “real time” content was subsidized exclusively by advertisers. Today, tech-savvy viewers choose where they get their content, how much they pay, what devices they use to consume it and the number of ads they encounter.

Cartoon Network and Adult Swim’s Michael Oueweelen spoke to the new era of decision-making for networks, distributors, advertisers and viewers. Explaining how he uses Apple TV AirPlay to stream his Adult Swim content to his television screen at home, Oueweelen said,

“TV is very hard work all of a sudden. You have to spend 10 minutes to decide, ‘How am I going to watch this?’ —which I think is both a problem and an opportunity.”

There’s (Still) No Place Like Home

“TV Everywhere” delivers upon the promise of watching what you want, on any screen you want, anywhere you go. Yet many young viewers still prefer to watch their favorite shows on the best screens available—and the evolution of technology platforms such as Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast and PlayStation makes it convenient to watch streamed HD content at home.

According to Hulu’s Peter Naylor, 100% of their audience watched from a desktop or laptop computer when the service first launched. “62% of our audience now happens in the living room,” said Naylor. With “multiple views per stream,” young, at-home audiences for streamed content are often much bigger than the universe of paid subscribers for the service—one reason Hulu bought and revived The Mindy Project after FOX cancelled the series. The promise of larger streaming audiences can be good news for advertisers, especially if the industry can figure out how to accurately measure viewership.

The Need for Speed

As cord-cutting trends continue, budget-conscious Millennials are less likely to pay for “big bundles,” prompting cable and satellite companies to court them with a la carte subscription plans (“skinny bundles”) and OTT offerings (such as HBOGo).

COX Communications’ Mark Greatrex notes that young consumers justify the cost of high-speed Internet to power their content, citing that, “65% of Millennials say it’s important to them to have the fastest Internet connection possible.” That’s good news for the distribution companies that control the broadband pipeline to your home, who see the future of TV in the delivery of bandwidth.

Getting Personal

According to Greatrex, the Golden Age of Television is still here, but will now rely on sophisticated surfing and search platforms to serve customized and personalized content to Millennials.

Based on these insights, COX has introduced product enhancements that include a modern user interface, a DVR tailored for binge-watchers and a recommendation engine that helps personalize discovery based on users’ favorite content. As a result, Greatrex says COX subscribers are now watching “20% more networks and 40% more shows.”

COX sees personalization as a major value proposition for Generation ME, with the added benefits of (potentially) reducing churn and password sharing. Said Greatrex,

“The more we personalize the video experience, it’s not so transportable. It [sharing a password] would be like using someone else’s toothbrush.”

Advertising: TV Becomes More Like Digital

As audiences become more fragmented, the question becomes, “How many commercials am I willing to tolerate versus what I have to pay for the content?” Hulu’s Naylor believes the future TV advertising will be modeled after what’s worked in the digital world—namely dynamic ad insertions, lighter ad loads, data informed targeting and charging advertisers only for spots that are viewed in their entirety.

As TV seeks to “get smaller,” the panelists agreed that programmatic is integral to helping the industry keep its advertising revenue stream. Attribution modeling based on behavioral targeting is ultimately what brands will expect.

Interestingly, as TV seeks to “emulate the digital guys,” the inverse may also be happening. Noting TV’s unmatched ability to deliver big audiences for brands around big events like sports playoffs and show premieres, Ouweleen spoke to digital and social brands’ desires to recreate the communal television experience. As with Twitter’s increased usage around live TV events, that is when these brands “light up.”

“How many commercials am I willing to tolerate versus what I have to pay for the content?”

Content is King. But Who’s Going to Create It?

With more than 400 original scripted, primetime series slated to air in our country this year, it’s content creators and distributors that face the challenge of launching compelling, proprietary programming with the power to find (and grow) a meaningful audience.

Ouweleen bemoaned the future shortage of quality series creators, writers and showrunners caused by an unprecedented demand for content. “We thought we’re going to run out of oil. We’re not,” he said. “We’re going to run out of dramas. We’re going to run out of comedies. We’re going to run out of complex characters you hate, but you love. It’s going to be a problem.”


So, is there a future for Television? The network audience is still enormous, especially for big events—but is shrinking rapidly in the demographics advertisers most care about.

Millennials and the next generation (Becomers, anyone?) continue to rewrite the rules of engagement. For content creators, distributors and advertisers, catering to their viewing habits means being nimble enough to deliver what they want, on any screen they want with as few interruptions as possible.

If we’ve learned one thing over the past 75 years, it’s that the television industry has shown a remarkable ability to adapt its business model to thrive amid changes in technologies, cultural trends and consumer demand. It’s this innate capacity for reinvention that means the true Golden Age of Television just might be yet to come.